The city of Bath. So named for the famous Roman baths still on display (for a considerable admission fee), and not for the not-famous bathroom in Nick’s flat, which is not equipped for showers, only baths in a tub, and is not on display for any kind of fee, considerable or otherwise.
Nick was our couch surfing host for our time in Bath. We stayed in his quaint basement flat in a lovely stone cottage in the forested hills overlooking the city. He was finishing up his last few days of student teaching in town, and this meant early mornings and late evenings, which gave us nearly twelve hours each day to explore.
The entire city of Bath was built in the Georgian era out of cream-coloured limestone, then completely blackened by Victorian coal smoke, and restored to its glowing glory in the late 20th century.
Bath is featured prominently in the novels of Jane Austen, and being huge Austen fans, we visited the Jane Austen Centre for an exhibition of portraits, costumes, furniture, and even food from her time period.
We snuck extra samples of 18th century biscuits (cookies) to tide us over till lunch. I don’t mind telling you this because we noticed a security camera after the fact and it will probably be all over international news. Better you heard it from us first. Here we are as Darcy and Lizzy. Can you tell who’s who?
Upstairs from the exhibition waits the Regency Tea Room, and we partook of a traditional treat called Cornish Cream Tea. If you ever visit, know that it’s not just tea with cream – the “cream” refers to the clotted (as opposed to whipped) cream slathered all over two gigantic scones, which are then topped with strawberry jam and served with an entire pot of tea. And we got double all of this because we had a two-for-one coupon, rendering our prior biscuit-sneak a pointless and regrettable venture.
To work off the Cream Tea’s roughly 9 billion calories, we joined a free two-hour walking tour of Bath. Here’s our guide, Ken, gesticulating in front of the Assembly Halls, where Jane Austen herself would have attended balls and sipped tea.
Tea, it turns out, was ridiculously expensive in Austen’s time, and matrons of the households would wear one key around their neck – not for the jewellery cabinets, but for the tea cupboards. The tour took us through the Circus (a circular arrangement of terraced houses, built so aristocrats could be sure to be seen going in and out of their expensive properties) and the Royal Crescent (a half-moon arrangement of terraced houses, built a few years later when all the aristocrats were tired of watching each other go in and out of their expensive properties and wanted a view of the countryside instead). Nick’s class at school has P. E. on the lawns in front of the Royal Crescent each week. How cool!
We walked around, walked around even more, got lost, found ourselves in quaint parks, ate sandwiches, sketched a bit, took pictures, looked at various homes Jane Austen stayed in, one of which is now a mere dentist’s office, visited a free art gallery full of paintings, clocks, and old spoons, toured the Abbey and a replica Victorian garden, and listened to opera in the streets. Bath is a small city you can probably see in a day, and we did it in two.
To get back to Nick’s each evening I set my phone’s navigation to “travel on foot,” and it led us up through a string of hidden walkways that thread the hills around Bath. The forest grew quite dense and we heard monkey sounds, which turned out just to be pigeons with deep voices.
Speaking of pigeons….
The Incident Involving the Pigeon, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Swarm
We found we still had three pounds fifty pence in our food budget for the day, so we bought a chicken and bacon panini. As we were eating it, a certain pigeon bobbed up to our feet and wouldn’t leave. “He wants some panini,” I observed. “Well he’s not getting any of ours,” Karen proclaimed, incorrectly. For as the words were gliding from her lips, so a piece of chicken glided from the bun and landed at the pigeon’s toes. We stared, curious if pigeons eat chicken, and it stared at the chicken, too dumb to be curious. It gave one timid peck and was instantly swarmed by seventy-seven other pigeons (or seventy times seven) who ripped the tiny piece to pieces and flung the bits far and wide across Bath’s fashion district. We left the swarm and thought deeply upon it.
Harry Potter Time!
While staying in Bath, we met up with Harry and Ron, and Ron retold us the story he told Harry in 1992 about a witch in Bath who owned a bewitched book that forced the reader to never stop reading! Ron tried to rally the three of us into a full day book run to find the bewitched book, but Karen was more interested in finding Pride and Prejudice.
Note: all Harry Potter information is derived from the seven books themselves, the filming locations, or the notes on the magical world left behind by J. K Rowling. So when we say 1992, it’s true.
Here are Ryan’s sketches of Bath.